Welcome back, Big Blue Nation. This is part two of a three-part weekly series that will come at you every Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of a game week. Wednesdays will be a flashback of the series history with the opponent of that week, Thursdays will be a statistical breakdown of the two teams head-to-head, and Friday will feature a scouting report with more detailed player vs. player matchups.
Unfortunately with this being the first game of the season, I have no stats to work with, so for this one I’m doing something a little bit different. We all know Western Kentucky pulled off the upset last year in Commonwealth Stadium — if you can even call it an upset in hindsight. And the Hilltoppers retain a lot of talent, especially on defense, of that team that knocked off the Cats. This is a quick representation of what Kentucky will be faced up against versus the team that won last year.
In the following weeks you will see something much different than what is here, and it will include a lot of side-by-side comparisons of Kentucky and its opponent that week. Obviously as the season progresses this post will become more and more detailed.
If you have any suggestions on what you would like to see in the future, let me know.
Bobby Petrino has named a sophomore quarterback, rated as a three-star out of high school, the starter against Kentucky. He has a tall order replacing Kawaun Jakes who was instrumental in putting the Hilltoppers program on the map. Brandon Doughty comes in having thrown just three passes in his career, and will be called upon in Petrino’s spread-it-out and air-it-out offense to sling it around constantly.
In this week one game, however, it seems likely that running back Antonio Andrews will receive the bulk of the offensive load, if for no other reason than to allow Doughty to get his sea legs for the rest of the season.
Advantage in the quarterback battle may have easily gone to the Wildcats, if not for Max Smith’s four interceptions last season against the Tops. How much that stat comes into play with a new year, a new set of coaches, and a new philosophy remains to be seen.
Whoever gets the majority of the snaps, whether it’s Smith or Jalen Whitlow, both quarterbacks have proven themselves under fire in conference games and if the coaches have anything to say about it, both have clearly earned their chance in practice. No matter what, the UK offense will have a solid leader under center.
Senior Antonio Andrews returns as one of the top backs in the Sun Belt Conference. Last year he got the ball 34 times and collected 125 yards on the ground against the Cats; not a dazzling performance by any means, but it was more than enough to keep the UK defensive front honest. It allowed Jakes to throw for 160 yards over the top on just 16 completions, too.
He is easily the Hilltoppers feature back and there likely will not be too much platooning in this one, if there is you will see Leon Allen. However, you don’t need to be told the Wildcats boast a ferocious defensive line, with Bud Dupree and Za’Darius on the corners, sandwiching the big boys Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph. Andrews will have to navigate through a lot of meat if he wants to find daylight to run.
The Hilltoppers lose leading receiver Jack Doyle from a year ago, but keep their No. 2 and No. 3, specifically Willie McNeal and Antonio Andrews. The Wildcats secondary is scary thin, so barring a completely disastrous game from new quarterback Brandon Doughty, expect the wide outs to get respectable yardage. Again, like the run game, the Hilltoppers will key on Andrews in short yardage, so the Wildcats linebacker corps will need to keep their eyes peeled for the play action, slip screens, and rollouts to the flat.
The Wildcats will counter the passing game with what is most likely its weakest unit on the field, offense and defense combined. A pair of sophomores and a true freshman will get time at corner back, and a pair of juniors will line up at safety. It’s not necessarily those starting that will be the biggest problem, it’s the depth.
Maybe Western won’t have the man power to exploit the holes down the line, but other teams will. Keep an eye out for who is rotating in and out, and how often.
The Hilltoppers defense, which picked off Max Smith four times in the game last year, returns a big chunk of what made them successful last year, including linebackers Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd, safety Jonathan Dowling, and defensive backs Kiante Young, and Tyree Robinson.
Where the Hilltoppers are weak is defensive line. Its top five linemen from last year are gone, and a whole lot of new faces are coming in to fill the spaces. That means the Wildcats running game will need to poke holes in every direction, because the secondary and zone defense in the box will be thick for the passing game. It is vital that Raymond Sanders and the offensive line keep moving the ball forward to suck the WKU defensive backs down to open up the air raid over the top. The biggest hole in the reasonably good Western defense is the front four, although there is decent potential for the young players to really develop as the year goes on.